9:12-17. And the day began to decline: and the twelve drew near, and said unto Him, Send the multitudes away, and let them go into the villages, and fields round about, and lodge, and find victuals: for we are here in a desert place. But He said unto them, Give ye them to eat. But they said, We have no more than five loaves and two fishes: unless we go and buy food for all this people. But they were about five thousand men. And He said to His disciples, Make them sit down in companies of fifty each. And they did so, and made them all sit down. And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, He looked up to heaven and blessed them, and brake, and gave to His disciples to set before the multitudes. And they did eat, and were all filled: and that which remained over unto them was taken up, even twelve baskets of fragments.
THE Jews, in my opinion, have not a single argument that can serve before the tribunal of God as a defence for their disobedience: for their opposition had no appearance of reason on its side. And why so? Because the law of Moses, by shadows and figures, led them unto the mystery of Christ. For the law, or rather the things it contained, was symbolical, and in it the mystery of Christ was depicted by type and shadow as in a painting. And the blessed prophets also foretold long before that in due time there should come One to redeem all beneath the heaven, and further proclaimed the very place of His birth in the flesh, and the signs that He would accomplish. But they were so obdurate, and their mind so indiscriminately set upon that alone which agreed with their prejudices, that they would not receive the words of instruction, nor be brought to obedience even by miracles so splendid and glorious.
Such then was their conduct: but let us, who have acknowledged the truth of His appearing, offer Him our praises for His godlike works; such as that which the passage before us records. For we learn by it, that our Saviour from time to |208 time went out from Jerusalem and other cities and towns, followed by multitudes, some seeking deliverance from the tyranny of devils, or recovery from sickness; but others desiring to receive instruction from Him, and constantly with great earnestness, remaining with Him, that they might be made fully acquainted with His sacred doctrines. When then the day was declining, as the Evangelist says, and evening had all but arrived, the disciples had care of the multitudes, and drew near, offering requests on their behalf. For they said, “Send them away, that they may go into the neighbouring villages and fields, and lodge and find victuals; for we are in a desert place.”
But let us carefully inquire what is the meaning of the expression “Send them away.” For we shall see by it both the admirable faith of the holy apostles, and also the supernatural and wonderful power of Christ the Saviour of us all, in whatsoever He willeth to perform. For, as I said, some of them followed beseeching Him to deliver thorn from the evil spirits that oppressed them, while others sought recovery from various maladies. Since, therefore, the disciples knew that by the mere assent of His will he could accomplish for those sick persons what they wanted, they say “Send them away:” not so speaking as though they were themselves at all annoyed, and considered that the proper time had gone by; but seized with love toward the multitudes, and beginning to have a concern for the people, as being already intent upon their pastoral office: so that we may even take pattern by them ourselves. For to draw near, and make supplication on the people’s behalf, is an act becoming to the saints, and the duty of spiritual fathers, and the proof of a mind that has regard not to selfish objects alone, but already considers as its own the interests of others: of which surpassing love this is a clear and very evident instance. And if we may be permitted to carry our argument above the level of human things, we say, for the benefit of such as meet with it, that when in earnest prayer we continue with Christ, whether asking of Him healing for the maladies of our souls, or deliverance from other sicknesses, or desiring to obtain anything whatsoever for our advantage; there is no doubt that when we ask in prayer any thing that is good for us, there supplicate in our behalf both the |209 intelligent powers, and those holy men who have freedom of access unto Him.
But observe the incomparable gentleness of Him Whom they supplicate. For not only does He grant all that they ask Him to bestow on those who followed Him, but also adds thereto of His own bountiful right hand; refreshing in every way those that love Him, and nurturing them unto spiritual courage. And this we may see from what has now been read. For the blessed disciples besought Christ that those who were following Him, having had their requests granted them, might be sent away, and disperse as they best could. But He commanded them to supply them with food. The thing, however, was impossible in the eyes of the disciples, for they had brought nothing with them but five loaves and two fishes: and this they drew near and confessed to Him. To magnify, therefore, the greatness of the miracle, and make it in every way evident that He is in His own nature God, He multiplies that little many times, and looks up to heaven to ask a blessing from above, being intent in this also upon our good. For He is Himself That which filleth all things, being the blessing that cometh from above from the Father. But that we may learn that when we commence a meal, and are about to break bread; it is our duty to offer it to God, placing it, so to speak, upon our stretched out hands, and calling down a blessing upon it from above, He purposely became our precedent, and type, and example in the matter.
But what was the result of the miracle? It was the satisfying a large multitude with food: for there were as many as five thousand men besides women and children, according to what another of the holy Evangelists has added to the narrative. Nor did the miracle end here; but there were also gathered twelve baskets of fragments. And what do we infer from this? A plain assurance that hospitality receives a rich recompense from God. The disciples offered five loaves: but |210 after a multitude thus large had been satisfied, there was gathered for each one of them a basketful of fragments. Let nothing therefore prevent those who are willing from receiving strangers, whatever there may be likely to blunt the will and readiness of men thereunto: and let no one say, “I do not possess suitable means; what I can do is altogether trifling and insufficient for many.” Receive strangers, my beloved; overcome that unreadiness which wins no reward: for the Saviour will multiply thy little many times beyond expectation, and though thou givest but little, thou wilt receive much. “For he that soweth blessings shall also reap blessings,” according to the blessed Paul’s words.
The feeding, therefore, of the multitudes in the desert by Christ is worthy of all admiration; but it is also profitable in another way. For we can plainly see that these new miracles accord with those in old time, and that they are the acts of one and the same power. “He rained manna in the desert upon the Israelites; He gave them bread from heaven; man did eat angels’ food,” according to the words of praise in the Psalms. But lo! again in the desert He has abundantly supplied those in need of food, bringing it down, as it were, from heaven. For His multiplying that little many times, and feeding, so to speak, with nothing so large a multitude, is not unlike that former miracle. And to address myself once again to the throng of the Jews, Thou wast in need of the natural water, when thou wast walking in that long wilderness; and God gave thee thy desire beyond thy hopes, and from an unlooked-for quarter. For, as the Psalmist says, “He clave the rock in the desert; He gave them drink as from the vast abyss; and He brought forth water out of the rock, and made water flow like rivers.” Tell me then, when thou hadst drunk, didst thou praise the Worker of the miracle? Didst thou raise thy tongue for thanksgiving? or wast thou induced by what had happened to acknowledge the ineffable power of God? Not so: for thou murmuredst against God, saying, “Can God prepare a table in the wilderness? If He smote the rock, and the waters flowed, and He made the streams overflow; can He also give bread, or prepare a |211 table for His people? Thou wast not astonished at seeing the flint rock the source of copious rivers; fountains issuing marvellously from stones, and streams running with rapid force, but imputedst weakness to Him Who is Almighty. And yet how was it not rather thy duty to perceive that He is the Lord of powers? How indeed could He be unable to prepare a table, Who made the flint rock a fountain and a stream, flowing over for that multitude?
But since thou hast brought thyself to so great folly as to imagine that there is anything impossible with God, and with empty babble hast said that He cannot prepare a table for His people in the wilderness, answer the question we now put to thee: Wilt thou embrace the faith now that thou seest a table prepared by Christ in the wilderness, and an innumerable multitude so abundantly supplied with food that twelve baskets of remnants were collected? or wilt thou still refuse to believe, and ask another sign? When, therefore, wilt thou be found believing? When wilt thou cease from finding fault with the ineffable power of Christ? When wilt thou put a door and bolt to thy tongue? and delivering it from the language of blasphemy, change it to a better use by praising Him, so that thou also mayest be a partaker of the blessings He bestows? For His mercies are revealed upon those who love Him, and He delivers them from all sickness. He supplies them also with spiritual food, by means of which each one attains to manliness in every thing that is praiseworthy. But upon the unbelieving and contemptuous He bestows no such gifts, but rather brings upon them that condemnation which they fitly deserve. For by one of His holy prophets He as it were said unto them, “Behold, they who serve Me shall eat, but ye shall suffer hunger. Behold, they who serve Me shall drink, but ye shall thirst. Behold, they who submit themselves to Me shall rejoice in happiness, while ye shall lament from sorrow of heart, and wail from contrition of spirit.” And again it is written, “The Lord killeth not the righteous soul with hunger, but wasteth the life of the wicked.”
For the flocks of the believers have, as it were, a pasture full of divers plants and flowers, in the holy Scriptures, which are their wise guides: and filled with spiritual joy at the glorious doctrines and instructions which they contain, they |212 frequent the sacred courts. And this it is which long ago was proclaimed in the words of Isaiah: “And there shall be upon every high mountain, and upon every high hill, running waters upon that day.” And again; “And the mountains shall drop sweetness: and the hills flow with milk.” For it is the custom of divine Scripture to compare to mountains and hills those set over others, and whose office it is to teach, inasmuch as they are high exalted, in respect, I mean, of their thoughts being occupied with elevated subjects, and withdrawn from things earthly: while the waters and the sweetness and the milk are the instructions which flow from them as from fountains. “There shall be then, He says, at that time from every high mountain, and from every high hill, flowing waters, and sweetness and milk.” And these are the spiritual consolations of holy instructors, offered to the people under their charge. Of these the Jewish congregations are deprived, because they did not receive Christ, the Lord of the hills and mountains, the Giver of spiritual consolation, Who offers Himself as the bread of life to those who believe in Him: for He it is Who came down from heaven, and gave life to the world: by Whom, and with Whom, to God the Father be praise and dominion with the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever, Amen. (source)